Interview: Rhesus on releasing their back catalogue online for the first time

If, for some reason best known to themselves, someone should ever take it upon themselves to write a history of Joyzine, an entire chapter would need to be devoted to Rhesus and the multitude of musical projects that sprang forth following their split in 2006. As well as being one of the most frequently featured bands within these pages in our nascent years, they played the first ever Joyfest back in 2004, featured on the first ever Joyzine Advent Calendar and we even teamed up for a frankly ridiculous project in which we put on five gigs in a week to raise thousands of pounds for the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Raw and often chaotic live, Rhesus’ punkier, rockier sound stood out like a sore thumb amongst their peers on the London independent scene at the time, which was largely (though far from exclusively) split between Gang of Four influenced art punk, arch indie pop and Libertines acolytes, but rather than isolating them they seemed to make connections with all of the various factions. It was an exciting time to be around the capital’s smaller venues, with a plethora of captivating bands any one of whom had the potential to break through to a bigger audience. And while a few did, what mattered more to me at the time was the sense of community and belonging that I found amongst this tangled web of intertwined musicians, labels, promoters and music fans, many of whom (myself included) are still at it today. Rhesus were one of several connecting points in this jumble, and I met a lot of good people and discovered some fantastic new bands as a result of knowing them.

Quite out of the blue we recently received news that they were planning to release All That’s Left, a compilation of 14 recordings, many of which have been unavailable since they went their separate ways. What better excuse to catch up with them?

This being 2022 rather than 2004, we meet with via Zoom, with members spanning all of the various iterations of Rhesus on the call, along with Les ‘Fruitbat’ Carter of early 90s cult heroes Carter USM, who released Rhesus’ early singles on his Spinach Records label (though due to technical difficulties he misses the start of the call). Present are Les, Wayne Owens (guitar/vocals), the only member to stay the course from Rhesus’ first day to its last, original bassist Paul Killengray and Muz, who followed him, Arran Goodchild (drums) and frontman Jim Rhesus (vocals/guitar). I begin by asking for a quick introduction to the band for any readers not yet familiar with them.

W: I initially formed Rhesus a very, very long time ago, like last century. I was singing and realised very quickly that my voice was failing from years of screaming and there was no way I could just physically do that anymore, so I put an advert out on a website called Musicians In Your City and this guy rang me up, and I think he was on the phone for pushing 2 hours straight. I’ve never experienced quite the level of enthusiasm that came off this guy. And so I thought, well, let’s give him a go and see what happens. He turned up at rehearsals in some terrible, terrible clothes. And that’s kind of how it started really.

J: They properly auditioned me and grilled me. Imagine being stared at by Wayne and Paul and Charlie (Ed: original Rhesus drummer) for like an hour, just being completely judged. They then sent me out of the room for 15 minutes. I smoked 3 cigarettes in the time I was waiting.

PK: Yeah, Wayne created a monster on that day. It was always better as a three piece (laughs).

J: Paul was with us for a while and then he decided that he didn’t want to be in a band anymore at the time – he thought he was too old for it at the ripe old age of 35 or something. I was working with Muz at the time – we’ve been in bands since we were kids. He came along and did an audition and joined.

M: I knew everyone in the band anyway, I was a fan of the band. I tell you what, I was so confident that my rehearsal would go well, I actually went out and bought a bass – I didn’t own a bass at the time. I bought a bass specifically because I was going to join this band called Rhesus, and I still have it hanging up downstairs. It’s completely knackered now, from years of smashing it against drum kits and things like that.

J: Charlie was still, there Muz then, wasn’t he?

M: Charlie was still there, yeah for a little while. And then didn’t he decide he was gonna move to Australia?

J: That was right – he wrote some book about the Aztecs and then was gonna move to Australia. Or did he go travelling? Something happened anyway and I emailed Fruitbat from Carter, being a huge Carter fan, because I’d just discovered the Internet and the fact you could email music and Wayne had made as a website and I’d never had a website before so I emailed Fruitbat this link to one of our songs, ‘Juvenile’, and he said said “I like this song, do you know that my housemate’s a drummer, and he’s looking to get into a band?” and I was like, well, he’s got the fucking job because he lives with Fruitbat from Carter!

A: I hate that story. I would like it if it was because I was good or something, anything.

PK: I remember seeing Arran’s first gig at Underworld, he just seemed to break everything.

A: Yeah, I didn’t realise that everything was miked up at the time, and I was doing quite a lot of martial arts. I didn’t realise at the time that it was all in the wrists.

J: But you were excellent, you were absolutely the right choice. And Paul was always our harshest critic. He’s been my harshest critic for 20 years and he still is.

A: Actually, who on this call, when they do something, has Paul’s voice now and again appear in their head?

PK: You’re just very lucky that I’ve been on mute most of the time, Arran, that’s all I can say.

A: To be fair, I was in a band when I was younger. Amazing band called Low Fat Custard. And then, this is it. This is the second band I was ever in and the one that I love. I remember being nervous before the rehearsals and I was very much someone that kept talking about stuff without doing anything. So pretty much the actual real story is that Les said “For Christ’s sake Arran, I’ve finally found a band for you, stop talking about it. Here, link it up,” and then that was it. I was in.

I first met Muz in a pub in Kingston, and then I saw Jim – he was wearing double denim and had a motorbike and on the way to the rehearsal and I didn’t know if he was being followed or whether he just kept checking himself out in the mirror. And then when we got to the rehearsal, there was a big full length mirror and everyone kept checking themselves out and I was…

PK: Nothing has changed, Arran, nothing’s changed. Both of you are still pouting, even now, every photograph you’re in.

J: I can’t remember Muz’s reasons for deciding to move on.

M: I think there was just lots of other things happening in my life at the time, and something had to something had to go and unfortunately at the time it was Rhesus.

J: Yeah, we still lived together and then you got married and we still hang out. So there was never any animosity with any of it. There was never any animosity with anyone leaving or moving or changing or anything like that. It was just the way it moved on, and then obviously Aurore joined us.

It was around this time that I first crossed paths with Rhesus myself. Having received a seemingly endless barrage of emails from Jim to come and see them, my first Rhesus gig was at The Metro on Oxford Street (RIP) in 2003, where the line-up included Les’ band Abdoujaparov and a fledgling Art Brut, followed not long after by a show at Joyzine’s spiritual home, the sadly missed Paradise Bar. Having been suitably impressed I subsequently booked them to play Joyzine’s first ever gig, a Joyfest warm-up show at The New Cross Inn, alongside The Favours and The International Karate Plus, it would be new recruit Aurore Sommer’s first performance with the band.

J: Did we play the Paradise Bar with you Muz, in New Cross?

M: Yeah, I think that was my last gig.

J: And I remember we did a gig in Les’ garden around that time as well.

M: Was that Arran’s birthday?

A: Best birthday ever. Yeah, until… I think that guy from Alabama Three turned up and DJed and then people wouldn’t leave and then the local gangs turned up and then it was like 5 in the morning ’til they left, but that was OK.

J: Yeah, I was there. Didn’t I stand on someone from Sex Gang Children?

PK: I was in the room. It was Andi Sex Gang and I think you spilt a beer all over him. He wasn’t happy.

A: Jim and Crissi, sang ‘Wild Horses’ for about a million years, yeah?

J: I think I broke the washing machine. I don’t even know how I did it. Crissi kicked my ass for it.

Rhesus played their final show, a wonderfully chaotic and emotional performance at The Purple Turtle in Camden (though there have been a few one-off reunions since) before splitting in February 2006. So why reissue these songs now?

W: It kind of occurred to me that it was pretty much 20 years since Jim joined, so although Rhesus existed before him, it wasn’t really Rhesus until he joined. And I was I was looking back through some stuff and I thought, you know, I’ve got all these audio files – I was never massively happy with them at the time, but what the hell, it’s a document, let’s just get it out there and see. Just as a memory, nothing commercial in it whatsoever. It was purely just for the fact of wanting to say, look this is a big part of our lives, really.

J: Wayne put it all up and it happened really, really quickly. So we didn’t even really discuss it with the rest of the band, it was only sort of Saturday lunchtime I realised not everyone even knew about it. So I messaged everybody and obviously Les put out our second record, ‘Art Is Dead’, on Spinach Records. So we let him know as well – he might be due for millions in royalties, you never know, with the huge amount you get from streaming nowadays.

So that that’s why now mate. Why not is the answer.

With 16 years having passed since they parted ways, I wondered how it had been listening back to the songs after such a long time.

J: My thoughts are I’d love to record it all again. We know much more about what we’re doing now, but I don’t know if we’d have had as much fun… But I’ve sent it to a couple of people and they’ve been really positive about it. There’s a lot of songs there that I really, really enjoyed and really enjoyed singing so it brought back some amazing memories of some really cool stuff.

W: Yeah, absolutely, but for me I hadn’t really listened to it in probably a decade, I guess. When was the last time we actually did a reunion?

J: I can’t remember what or why or where. I think it was at The Windmill and it could have been Les’ birthday. It was definitely at The Windmill ’cause Aaron took a photograph of my arse.

A: It was Les’ 50th. I’m pretty sure. When we were doing angry music at The Windmill, before you were allowed to do angry music at The Windmill. It felt like maybe the audience wasn’t ready for it yet – bit like I’m Michael J Fox.

In that reflective mode, I asked them about their personal highlights of their time in the band.

J: God there was a lot.

A: Joyfest.

J: Joyfest was amazing. Might not have been a highlight of your life Paul, but we had an amazing time.

Indeed, the inaugral Joyfest had been a stressful weekend – a folly of youth, over-confidence and listening to bad advice, which ballooned into a two-stage, two-day extravanganza way beyond my powers of organisation. The music was great though.

A: It might have been a bit of a low point for you but it was highlight for us, definitely just ’cause it felt like you made an entire gang of people get together on that weekend and it just felt special. I remember, even just getting in the van there and how zeitgeist it was. It felt good being part of that.

W: Definitely, definitely Jim ringing me up saying mate John Peel’s about to play us on the radio. That was, still is and always will be a big highlight of my life.

J: Absolutely. I’ll give you a tiny quick backstory to that. I got a message from a friend of mine called Dave who worked on the John Peel show – my phone rang and he said “Jim, it’s Dave. John’s about to play you a record.” And I woke up, I had no real idea of the time, it was the middle of the night, I think it was the day that Joe Strummer died. I didn’t know what to do, so I called the number back and an old woman answered and said “Hello?”, and I said, “Can I speak to Dave?” and she said, “Sure… David!” And he came to the phone and said “Jim, you just woke up, John Peel’s wife!”

And so he said, “Yes, he’s about to play it.” So then I was going around switching on every possible device in the house, phoned Wayne and I’ve still got a recording of it, that I recorded through my TV on a VHS cassette, ’cause that was the only way to do that then. But yeah, so that was an absolute massive highlight.

Getting Les to produce it was fucking awesome as well. Obviously Les being my musical hero since my youth, that was absolutely incredible.

And playing that 100 Club gig. (one of the five shows that we co-organised to raise money for Tsunami Relief)

W: Ooh yeah.

J: With Art Brut that was sold out. That was bloody brilliant as well, that whole week.

A: And the castle in Guernsey, that was cool as well.

But all of it, you know, loads of general band stuff. I always navigate to gigs first ’cause that’s the easiest to express. There’s a hell of a lot of gigs where we were just playing and it just felt… Again, it’s that feeling of just being in the middle of something and I remember I was always bleeding everywhere ’cause I used to forget not to hit the drums too hard. And I remember it being… I don’t know just being like an actual part my soul that I was playing, you know. When you’re in a band, it’s a rare feeling that you feel like the music’s part… I know it sounds stupid.

J: I know exactly what you mean, it doesn’t stupid.

A: I don’t want to sound like a hippie or nothing like that. It’s just I actually meant it. I wasn’t just physically punching the drums, I actually meant it. Like for ‘EYOY’ I actually felt that angry and hearing Muz’s bass and hearing you sing it. I actually felt like that was me. And I think that the highlight was feeling the connection towards a band, specially when I thought I wouldn’t be in a band for ages. I couldn’t find people to play with, you know friends and also people that have the same music taste. Finding that combination going on stage… Quite simple highlight – just being in the bloody band.

M: Yeah, we were a very hard working band because if we weren’t gigging, we were rehearsing and if we weren’t rehearsing, we were gigging. If we weren’t rehearsing, we were eating shitloads of olives.

A: Yeah, Croydon olives – we should have been sponsored by Croydon olives. I’ve got to go – don’t forget to tell them the samurai sword story. (Exit Arran)

J: The samurai sword story is basically that we met Keith TOTP, who had a recording studio and we didn’t have any money at all, so Keith said, “Oh I’ll record your songs for you,” and we said, “Well, we haven’t got anything to pay you with.” And Arran said, “I’ll get you a samurai sword” and he said “OK, fine.” So Arran’s Dad gave him two samurai swords, he gave the samurai swords to Keith and Keith recorded the single and then Les produced it.

W: What I would say though is, to reiterate what Aaron was saying, the connection in Rhesus, the kind of almost electrical connection between everybody was just unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in any band ever. It just was just… something happened when we got on stage and it was almost uncapturable, I think that’s probably why I was never that massively happy with any of the recordings ’cause it just didn’t really encapsulate that true level of excitement and craziness.

J: And it was the same in every iteration of Rhesus. It was the whole way through it, from every single gig, with any band member in it. It was always the same. It was always a level of organised chaos, held together by whoever was the most on form that day, and that was the size of it, really. I mean, there were times when any one of us could have been way off, but at least one person was completely on it and sometimes everyone was, and then it was even better, but some of the levels of chaos…

M: But even as an audience member, going back to what you were saying about that electricity, Wayne, even as an audience member after I’d left and come to see you guys a few times. Even standing in the audience, I felt that as well, having felt it on stage, almost becoming part of that, that energy, that family and then standing in the audience, watching it still getting that was a pretty awesome feeling.

Rhesus were one of a number of bands interwoven through friendships, shared line-ups and shared band members on the London gig circuit at the time – who did they feel a kinship with back then?

J: So many wasn’t there. We never found anyone that was really cohesive with us musically, which I think might have been our downfall because there wasn’t really any bands… maybe The Rocks, I don’t know, there wasn’t a lot of bands that we played with that we sounded anything like.

But we’re still playing, still friends with all of them. Obviously Art Brut – I remember the day that they got signed, we were playing with them at Dublin Castle and they couldn’t believe it as much as we couldn’t believe it.

And obviously Abdou and Les taking me to go and play with Abdou, which was amazing. And then there was Luxembourg and The Boyfriends and Screaming Ballerinas. There were so many wasn’t there, just so many bands. You put most of them on! You put us all together on that one day at Joyfest. That was where we all really met. And then we did that thing at Keith ToTPs’ didn’t we? Where everyone shouts their name and then Top of The Pops! (A recording of Art Brut’s live favourite ‘Top of The Pops’ for an Angular Records compilation album which featured a who’s who of the London indie scene at that moment in time)

It’s crazy sitting and talking about this stuff and remembering how important it was to us, but I literally didn’t used to think about anything else. How I didn’t get fired from numerous jobs for not doing anything to do with work…

In the 16 years since they split up, the members of Rhesus have been involved in a number of musical projects – I asked what they were up to right now.

J: You’d never know what Arran was up to. He rarely mentions it. (laughs) He’s playing with The Saw Doctors next week or The Levellers or something. He’s forever banging on about it. (Ed: Arran’s band Shattercones were on tour with New Model Army)

We’ve done a few bits. Wayne and I have done a couple of things. Wayne is currently overseas but is coming back, so we’ll end up doing something.

We did The French Electric and then we had we had a band called Hasslich, that was really, really great. We had to change the name ’cause turned out to be some Nazi name, so we became Captive Bolt Method and that was Wayne, Charlie and I. So the original Rhesus drummer. Paul is doing his Dead Patrons, who quick plug are doing a gig with me at The Fighting Cocks in Kingston. And obviously Arran and I are still doing Subliminal Girls, but that’s something completely different and always has been. It’s nothing like Rhesus as well we know.

I think that Captive Bolt Method is probably the closest thing to Rhesus that we did. Paul, tell us about Dead Patrons.

PK: It’s good, come and see us some time.

J: We did a gig with them down in Bournemouth at some art thing with Alan McGee a few weeks ago and it was brilliant. They’re really great.

L: I’ve got stuff. I’ve got some Abdoujaparov gigs coming up. We’re doing some supports with Ferocious Dog now that I’ve left them. Some in some in March and some in April. And I’ve got solo gig in Canterbury on the 18th of March. And I’m trying to write songs and not doing very well at it.

J: So there will always be more stuff and we’ll always do more stuff together as well.

And so on the obvious question in these circumstances – is there a Rhesus reunion on the cards?

J: There isn’t. But as always, never say never. You never know.

L: I’ve got one word for you guys. Gracetonbury 2022.

J: Well, there’s an offer, isn’t there? We could do Rhesus through the ages, couldn’t we?

With Les finally having overcome his technical gremlins to join us on the call, and the offer of a Rhesus reunion gig on the table, I asked him about his earliest recollections of Rhesus.

L: (laughs) It was mainly Jim publicising his band and he told me I should listen to it, and then Jim saying, we need a drummer. Do you know any drummers? And that’s where Arran came in. That’s that’s my main memory about it.

I think that’s how I met you all as well – constant bombardment on Myspace from Jim.

J: (laughs) It worked didn’t it? We’re still here!

I remember doing a lot of bombarding people on Myspace, that’s for sure, but Myspace is all gone. I can’t even remember my log in now. Does anyone still use it?

At this point, Wayne turns the tables on me and asks me for my memories of the band.

PM: I guess that week of doing gigs for Tsunami Relief is probably the thing that most sticks out, what was it, five shows in a week? I think you played all of them, didn’t you?

J: We didn’t play the Tuesday at Dingwalls, I don’t know why, there was a reason we couldn’t… Maybe because we were doing four other gigs that week.

PM: The 100 Club one obviously was just ridiculous (Ed: a sold out show headlined by Art Brut), but I think that last one at The Windmill… I just remember sort of collapsing in a sweaty heap with Jim at the end of all that thinking bloody hell, what have we just done?

J: That was brilliant, that last that last night ’cause we had Les playing with Abdou and we had (his Carter USM bandmate) Jim Bob as well playing solo and we had us and… It was mental, absolutely mental that night, really was, and it was a Sunday. I had to go to work the next day… Another time I nearly got fired.

I can literally remember about four times where I actually nearly got fired because of this band. Once I ended up letting a ski brochure go to print with double pages of the same hotels on two separate pages and it went into a million editions. That isn’t an exaggeration. And I remember being told about that on the steps outside of the King’s Head before I was going on stage. My boss was just like “Look, we’ve just been taken over by Thompson. If this was still Crystal, you would definitely have been fired. Literally fired.” But it didn’t happen. But yeah, attention to detail was never my strong point.

And with that, we say our goodbyes. It’s been fun looking back on what were genuinely exciting times that played a massive part in making all of us on the call the people we are today (we’ll leave it to those who know us to decide whether that’s a good thing). A few days after the call comes the news that Rhesus will indeed be reforming for one night only at Gracetonbury 2022 (information and tickets here) – I’m relishing one more chance to party like it’s 2005.

Stream All That’s Left: The Complete Archive on Spotify or download via Bandcamp

Interview & Photography by Paul Maps
100 Club Photographs by Pete Dodds

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